The Atlanta Braves appeared to have found their ace last season. Many prognosticators are predicting a regression while some say he'll be even better. What should the Braves expect from the Calgarian Corner Painter?
When it's all said and done, Atlanta Braves' young star, Mike Soroka, may end up going down as the second-greatest professional athlete to come out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada... the first obviously being WWE wrestling hall of famer Bret "The Hitman" Hart.
Mike Soroka starred at Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary, Alberta Canada. The Braves drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft out of high school. He had committed to play baseball for the University of California, Berkeley but instead chose to report to the Braves.
Less than three years later he would make his major-league debut. Soroka recently spoke about his quick ascent to the majors when speaking with Canadian media.
"I think to a lot of people, it looked like a quick ascent to the major leagues, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way to me because I put in the work and effort every day from start to finish ... So I wasn't surprised at how (2019 turned out). But it was definitely nice to get that boost early in my career, that's for sure."
Soroka began Rookie Ball at just 17-years-old. In 34.0 innings he posted a 3.18 ERA. The following year he reported to A-Rome where he went 9-9 with a 3.02 ERA in 143 innings. Next year at age 19, Soroka made his way to AA-Mississippi where he continued to shine with a record of 11-8 and a 2.75 ERA in 153.2 innings pitched.
In 2018 he had already reached AAA-Gwinnett, where he showed no signs of slowing down with a 2.00 ERA in 27.0 innings. The Braves had seen enough. Soroka made his major-league debut on May 1st, 2018 at the age of twenty. He picked up the win against the Mets in six innings of one-run ball.
Soroka would only get five starts under his belt before being shut down due to shoulder inflammation. He wouldn’t pitch again the rest of the season.
Mike Soroka came into 2019 a determined 21-year-old man. I'm going to use a few stats from a seven-page profile on his 2019 season, which can be found here.
Soroka 2019 Stats
13-4 // 2.68 ERA // 1.11 WHIP // 174.2 IP // 142 K
- Soroka led the NL in HR/9
- Seventh best FIP in the NL
Among rookie pitchers over the past 20 seasons (2000-2019) with a minimum of 170 innings pitched, here’s how Soroka stacked up.
- #5 in fWAR with 4.0
- #12 in HR/FB ratio with 0.72 – he was the first player on the list from the past five years.
- #2 in ERA (second only to the great Jose Fernandez)
- #8 in FIP
- #6 in walks per nine
But is he an Ace?
Despite the incredible rookie season, analysts were not ready to anoint him as an ace. This has a lot to do with his low strikeout rates, but pitchers like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Masahiro Tanaka profile similarly to Soroka while still filling Ace-hood at various points.
An Ace is not just a fantasy term. It's a pitcher you can depend on getting crucial outs in big moments. It's a pitcher you can trust to step up in a big game. Soroka proved time and time again last season that he had nerves of steel.
Tim Hudson could give up three runs in the first inning, but what made him an ace was the trust that he could right the ship and give the team a chance to win. That's an ace.
Nobody looked more like an Ace than Soroka when he took the mound against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS. Soroka went 7.0 strong innings, striking out seven and allowing one run on two hits.
By the end of the series, we were using our 20/20 vision-goggles to lament that Soroka didn’t start Game 1 so he could have been utilized twice. National prognosticators may not be sure about Soroka, but in that moment, Braves’ fans knew who our ace was.
The Look Ahead
I wrote an entire article about why Soroka is not going to regress (which I linked earlier). I’ll touch on a few reasons Braves’ fans should expect Soroka to continue to dominate, as he has at every level of professional baseball thus far.
While the rest of the league is notoriously worse against hitters the third trip through the lineup, Soroka was actually more effective.
Opposing hitters averaged .242 off of Soroka the first time through. They hit .246 the second trip through and finally bottomed out with a .220 average the third time they faced the Calgarian Conquerer in a game.
Here’s how the rest of the league fared against starting pitchers each time they faced them in a game:
- 1st time: .244/.311/.418
- 2nd time: .262/.324/.453
- 3rd time: .270/.331/.477
When you see how Soroka bucked that trend, it makes you think that there must be something special about this cat. He’s a cerebral assassin. He’s more like Bret “The Hitman” Hart than I thought. He is the excellence of execution. Will he end up being “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be?”
Our own, Jake Mastroianni recently discussed the fact that Soroka will be past his shoulder issues and ready to take the ball even deeper into games in 2020. Jake noted that Soroka only reached 100 pitches twice last season.
If he continues with the success he had against hitters the second and third times through, then, by all means, let’s “take those kid gloves off.”
I expect more great things from Soroka in 2020 and I bet you all do as well.
Welcome to baseball season, everyone!